Owlet's smart socks can measure the heart rate and oxygen levels in babies - © Owlet Baby Care
Intelligent products are increasingly infiltrating our everyday lives. Now, clothing items are also becoming smart. “Smart wear” can heat up and cool down automatically, monitor the sleep and health of little adventurers and babies and even administer medication.
“The future of the computer lies in its disappearance”, predicted computer scientist Donald Norman back in 1998. In fact, digital tools are becoming increasingly smaller and invisible. They are hidden in watches, glasses and now even in clothing. “Smart wear” or “smart clothes” is the name for garments equipped with microelectronics. In contrast to other high-tech fibres, which make outfits breathable, antibacterial or grow with the wearer, smart clothes have integrated sensors and can be controlled via an app.
Safety through intelligent sensors
Textiles with intelligent sensors offer a wide range of application possibilities – especially in the area of baby and children’s clothing. For example, the smart socks from Owlet Baby Care can measure the heart rate and oxygen levels in babies and alert parents on their mobile phone in the event of an emergency. The “Exmobaby” romper suit from Chinese manufacturer Exmovere works in a similar way and also monitors important vital functions. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration have developed a baby romper suit to help prevent sudden infant death. A stretchable circuit board measures the breathing activity of the little ones and warns parents if the baby stops breathing.
This baby romber helps prevent sudden infant death - © VERHAERT Masters in Innovation
Some smart clothes can even spare painful medical procedures: For example, a pyjama developed by researchers at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research (Empa) provides premature babies with a caffeine agent to prevent respiratory arrest, thereby avoiding stressful and painful injections.
Where are the little ones at right now? Smart children’s clothes know that as well. The first children’s jackets equipped with antenna, mobile technology and a remote-controlled mini-camera already exist, but only as a prototype for now.
Diverse challenges and great market potential
The examples show that smart wear is still in the development stage in many cases. A number of challenges still need to be overcome before it becomes a mass product, such as the power supply of the sensors as well as the security and privacy of the sensitive data collected during monitoring. In addition, smart clothing should be sustainable – in other words, environmentally friendly, recyclable, and robust enough to withstand vigorous activity and numerous washes. Child safety is also still lacking because many smart garments have not yet been able to do without attachments. Batteries, antennas and other accessories are attached by means of snap fasteners, magnets or Velcro and could pose a danger to children.
Nevertheless, smart clothes have great potential for children and babies because parents like to rely on modern high-tech solutions, especially when it has to do with the safety and health of their offspring. There are great growth opportunities for the smart textiles market: In 2017, the global market volume was around EUR 1.3 billion. BY 2022, this figure could increase to around EUR 5 billion, with the German market accounting for around EUR 700 million. For 2030, the brief expert report “Fashion Tech – Smart Textiles”, commissioned by the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology, predicts a market potential of EUR 4.2 billion in Germany alone; the global market is expected to grow to EUR 41.4 billion.
Already, we can’t wait to see how smart clothes will develop and what we will find at the next Kind + Jugend!